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A behavioral diet toolkit

I am not what I would describe as a great enthusiast for the alternative health craze. I remember reading when I was a child about the “snake oil salesmen” who precipitated this country’s need for a Food and Drug Administration. Although I’d love to believe that all of our modern snake oil salesmen are well-intentioned, I know that many of them are just out to make a buck from a sometimes desperate and often gullible public.

Fish pills

Fish pills are a simple addition to your child’s diet that may make huge changes in mood regulation.

At the same time, some of our most interesting research on children’s behavioral health is coming out of investigation of things that many in the alternative health world have been saying for a long time: We don’t necessarily have an epidemic of new “disorders” for kids—ADHD, high functioning autism, allergies—what we have is a coming together of various strands of our culture to create problems in our children’s growing bodies.

I will only briefly mention how our children’s lives have changed: from most kids walking to school a generation ago to few walking now, most children playing outside a generation ago to most playing inside on a screen now, from kids getting dirty and engaging in creative play to kids stuck in fluorescent-illuminated classrooms now.

What I want to focus on here are a few dietary changes that can be life-changing for kids with behavioral problems. If your child has behavioral problems, it’s worth considering trying any of these changes to see if there is an improvement.

1) Reactive hypoglycemia and omega supplementation

Omega-3 is so helpful for so many kids, but especially for those fast-talking, fast-metabolizing kids who seem to go up and then crash mid-morning. I wrote an article on reactive hypoglycemia, and another on the effects of omega-3. There’s no reason not to start your child on fish pills today, except, perhaps, for the screaming at the yucky stuff goes down. Some people say that their kids like flavored chewables. My kids hate the flavored ones so we’ve settled on Pure Formulas, which they swallow whole. But I think parents should use whatever their kids are willing to take. You may also encourage your child to eat oily fish, which happily, my children love but many children are unwilling to try.

2) Impulse control and iron supplementation

There is a lot of new research coming out linking behavioral issues with iron deficiency. I have a forthcoming article about this in the 2e Newsletter and I will post a link on my Facebook page when it’s out. If your children have trouble with impulse control and mood swings, get their iron tested, and make sure the tests break out ferritin levels, which is only done if specified. Kids who get ADHD diagnoses seem prone to low ferritin levels, and ferritin is what helps the brain regulate serotonin levels. If their ferritin is low, choose an easily digestible supplement. We use Pure Formulas, but only because it was recommended and doesn’t give my daughter an upset stomach. If she could swallow bigger pills, I might want to go for one of the “real food” based supplements, but they taste awful and are large. (Nope, Pure Formulas isn’t paying me, but perhaps I should send them this blog and see if they will!*)

3) Gut bacteria and probiotics

I have been reading recently, especially in research on autism, about emerging evidence that gut bacteria actually play a huge role in behavior. This was very interesting to me because our daughter’s greatest difficulties happened when she was taking an antibiotic for a congenital urinary system disorder. There are new and very expensive ways to diagnose and treat gut bacteria imbalances, but the easy thing you can you is either have your kids eat lots of live culture yogurts, pickles, and sauerkraut or have them take a probiotic. One of the most interesting papers I read about this showed that kids with gut bacteria imbalances actually seek out the foods that are worst for them, which is something I’ve seen as well. I know that there are a lot of very expensive treatments out there, but as far as I’ve read, their efficacy is not yet proven.

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it seems to me that the suggestions above should fall into the area of common sense. I find it shocking and more than a little depressing that doctors are willing to diagnose drugs to treat a problem before they suggest trying lifestyle and dietary alterations. I have read that France has a fraction of the number of ADHD diagnoses that we have, simply because they always try lifestyle, education, and dietary alterations first before putting what may be unnecessary drugs into a developing child’s body.

I’m not fond of the snake oil salesmen, and in fact I hate all the noise they make which drowns out the sensible voices in alternative health. But parents can take their own proactive approach, even if their pediatricians persist in sticking with a 1960’s view of medicine and treatment.

* Note: My joke above was just a joke. When I am approached by companies wanting me to hawk their products, I always refuse. I only recommend products either because they happen to fit my family’s needs, or as an example so readers know what to look for. In most cases, a variety of brands will have similar characteristics.

Posted in Health, Parenting, Psychology.


3 Responses

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  1. CM says

    My son had a big issue last fall when he was 15 and started on daily antibiotics for acne.

    I think this should be pointed out. Often we hear of problems in little kids from lots of courses of AB for ear infections. Well routinely putting teens on antibiotics for acne is a bigger issue, it’s a daily dose for years!

    If you research it you will find some of the acne antibiotcs have been linked to new teen depression, mood disorder, and suicidal thoughts, anxiety and severe raging episodes of anger.

    About my son: we believe the acne meds started a domino effect: leaky gut (which he had in the past), triggering formerly dormant food intolerances, started with first time ever reactive hypoglycemia. He does not eat fish or anything with omega fatty acids in it and really needs it, but refuses to take it. He also is an athlete and the long practices in 100+ degrees, sun, and humidity contributed to burning of glucose in the brain which I felt triggered the hypoglycemia. He also was back to craving wheat carbs, sugar, and dairy and not eating much else. He was sneaking soda and candy and other snack-y type garbage foods such as we do not (cannot) keep in the house because he reacts – he snuck it when he was out with friends, at a sport team party, at robotics club etc.

    He went off the antibiotics (his choice after we discussed the studies I showed him on the Internet and showed him some teen discussions online about how acne meds changed their anxiety and mood) and then slowly everything started to turn around, it took 6 months.

    He only did a 12 day trial of no gluten, no wheat, no dairy, no sugar and he was so happy and wonderful and no brain fog and no attention issues, high energy, and the acne actually cleared completely up. He went back on it after deciding it was too hard to live with. It is a roller coaster depending on what he eats. He is 16 now and we cannot control what he eats. I can only control what is in the house but this has resulted in him starting new food control issues such as refusing to eat at home, saying he is not hungry, but if we go somewhere he pigs out (such as leave our house and visit a friend and they offer him food and he eats a ton when he just told us he was not hungry).

    I also read something about the cycle of leaky gut blocking the body’s ability to digest food fully and blocks or prevents the absorption of basic vitamins and nutrients. Thus some people are malnutritioned with various key things we need for proper functioning physically, energy wise and mood wise. The frustrating thing is they eat but what they take in is not absorbing. This is why many people refuse to think that a person who has access to food and eats it can be malnutritioned.

    At the same time we were going through this a friend was dealing with similar things with her 16 year old. They went to various doctors and even a homeopathic doctor. Blood tests revealed lots of deficiencies such as severe anemia and low vitamin D and other indicators that what I just described had occurred. He was also diagnosed with hypoglycemia and new food allergies and wound up on a severely limited diet while the leaky gut healed and then they were going to try to reintroduce the dairy, wheat, soy, gluten, corn, almonds, etc.

    Lastly you should read the new book Salt, Sugar, Fat because it explains the brain biology and psychology about emotions and food and cravings and how processed foods are intentionally balanced with certain levels of flavor, salt, sugar, and fat to get us to crave more, eat more, want more, and the problem is the food is crap and can make us sick in the process such as leading us down a road to diabetes and high blood pressure and obesity.

    Oh, and look at any kid with Autism and you will see their mother feeding them Goldfish. Just look and see. It’s like crack for little kids and it’s especially loved by ADHD kids & Autism kids.

    • Suki says

      Thanks for all the suggestions. Funny about the goldfish – I’ve definitely seen that with one of my kids.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Women helping women – Avant Parenting linked to this post on September 16, 2013

    […] other day I wrote about how I’m a bit of a skeptic about the exploding field of alternative health. It is so hard to separate the noise of the snake oil salesmen from the soft-spoken voices of […]



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